Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 365–384

Duty or Dream? Edwin G. Conklin's Critique of Eugenics and Support for American Individualism

  • Kathy J. Cooke

DOI: 10.1023/A:1016077829496

Cite this article as:
Cooke, K.J. Journal of the History of Biology (2002) 35: 365. doi:10.1023/A:1016077829496


This paper assesses ideas about moral andreproductive duty in American eugenics duringthe early twentieth century. While extremeeugenicists, including Charles Davenport andPaul Popenoe, argued that social leaders andbiologists must work to prevent individuals whowere ``unfit'' from reproducing, moderates,especially Edwin G. Conklin, presented adifferent view. Although he was sympathetic toeugenic goals and participated in eugenicorganizations throughout his life, Conklinrealized that eugenic ideas rarely could meetstrict scientific standards of proof. Withthis in mind, he did not restrict his eugenicvision to hereditary measures. Relying onhis experience as an embryologist, Conklininstead attempted to balance more extremeeugenic claims – that emphasized the absolutelimits posed by heredity – with his own view of``the possibilities of development.'' Throughhis critique he argued that most human beingsnever even begin to approach their hereditarypotential; he moderated his own eugenicrhetoric so that it preserved individualopportunity and responsibility, or what hasoften been labeled the American Dream.

American dream Conklin, Edwin G. ethics eugenics individualism morality race betterment race suicide 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathy J. Cooke
    • 1
  1. 1.Quinnipiac UniversityHamdenUSA

Personalised recommendations